Nairobi, Kenya – The Kenyan “Pocket Rocket” Vivian Cheruiyot burned through a measured final lap today at Kasarani Stadium to claim the Kenyan National 10,000 meter title (32:24.51) over a determined Joyce Chepkirui (32:24.71) and third-placer Sally Kipyego (32:26.82). The times were modest, but as Vivian said afterwards, “this race was for position, not time.” True enough, the three will now represent their country in London’s Olympic Games, as this was the lone Olympic Trials race of the two-day national championships.
In a race that featured an Olympic final caliber collection of talent, the pace dawdled over the initial two-thirds of the 25 laps, taking the 15-person lead pack nearly 17minutes to a pass half-way. Finally, with seven laps remaining and a pack of nine still in contention, 2009 World Champion Linet Masai took the reins before stepping off the track with 3 ½ laps remaining (no evident cause was seen or given).
After Masai pulled off on the backstretch, road race star Joyce Chepkirui stepped into the driver’s seat with double world champion Vivian Cheruiyot tucking closely in behind followed by 2011 Berlin Marathon champion Florence Kiplagat, Sally Kipyego the former Texas Tech Red Raider, and Priscah Jeplateng, fourth in the Daegu World Champs.
For the next two laps the positions held as the small but boisterous crowd scattered along the lower sections of the massive Kasarani Stadium implored their favorites. When the bell clanged, the tiny tempest that is Vivian Cheruiyot burst to the lead with Chepkirui in her slipstream holding fast. Kipyego gave ground grudgingly while Florence Kiplagat, the Kenyan national record holder at 30:11, and Priscah Jeplateng began seeing their Olympic dreams fade from view. Kiplagat had come in off a close second place to Ethiopian Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon on June 4. Perhaps that 30:24 effort had its effect in Nairobi today.
Vivian Cheruiyot admitted that she had been suffering with a slight ankle irritation before the race, and aggravated it a little during the competition. However, she also confirmed her intentions of attempting to duplicate her Daegu World Championships double in London. Directly after the meet she took off for a physio session, but when it was time for the gas, the throttle never stalled.
Runner-up Joyce Chepkirui fortunes had soared after she changed management in 2011 and cut way back on her racing. In 2010 Joyce went to the line in over 10 half-marathons, and never could muster a peak. With a renewed focus and the coaching of her husband Eric Kibet, she ripped a world-leading 30:38 10K in Tilberg last season, then followed up with a PR 67:03 win at the Praque Half Marathon this March.
While 9-time NCAA champion Sally Kipyego was a solid third, there was some scuttlebutt among the press that AK officials might be considering putting the 2009 World Champion Linet Masai on the team in front of Sally even though Linet had DNFd. But last we heard, the 1-2-3 finishers were all headed to London.
With both the men’s and women’s 10,000 meter teams now selected, the remainder of the 2012 Kenyan Olympic Trials will take place next Saturday June 23rd, at Nyayo National Stadium, hopefully in front of a slightly larger crowd.
Ecstacy in the women’s 4 X 400 relay today when Pamela Jelimo, the Police team anchor and 2008 Olympic 800 meter champion, stormed back from a 10 meter deficit in the first 200 meters to overtake the anchor for the Prison Police team.
Jelimo had won the open 400 title the day before in 52.1. Sitting in front of the Police team cheering section was an ear-piercing experience. Yet track at its very best.
Off to Ngong tomorrow to film the training of world marathon champion Patrick Makau, who, now that he’s been left off the Kenyan men’s Olympic marathon team will begin to focus on his fall marathon. Frankfurt has already made a strong bid for his services in late October, but both Chicago and New York City have expressed interest, as well. You can be certain Patrick will have a well-compensated consolation for not going to London. Along with the Olympic medalists coming out of London, Makau and Geoffrey Mutai will be the top attractions on this fall’s marathon marquee.